Skip to main content

Puya Plants: Unearthly Delights in the Garden

Catherine is a proponent for responsible stewardship of our natural resources and covers topics of plant life and sustainable living.

The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya alpestris  contrast with the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom.

The exotic teal blue flowers of Puya alpestris contrast with the bright orange anthers on this spectacular and rare bloom.

Puya Plants Are a Rare Treat

Our home came with a mature garden of varied plants, and I was surprised when I saw a puya for the first time. It looked so unworldly! My husband and I both stared at a three-foot spike of metallic teal blooms with bright orange anthers and wondered what it could possibly be.

Before the internet, my research involved the tedious page-turning of my Sunset Western Garden Book. Finally, I found it: Puya alpestris, native to the Andean slopes of South America. What a rare treat! It only produces a flower about once every three years, and it's an exciting event that takes place over several weeks. Who wouldn't want one of these in their garden?

The Bromeliad Family

The Bromeliacea family has over 3,000 varieties. Some thrive in the world's tropical rainforests where they attach to the bark of trees with their aerial roots. These epiphytes, easily rooted, have been adapted to grow as house plants, including the colorful guzmanias, aechmeas, billbergias, and tillandsias. Distantly related to the pineapple, many are naturally terrestrial and prefer to grow in well-drained soil, like the sharply spined dyckia and puya which are treated as cactus and succulents.

The puya species has close to 200 varieties, some are towering candle shapes and others are smaller with a colorful branching habit. Native to South America and the slopes of the Andes, these exotic plants produce strong fibers that were used by indigenous people for ropes and fishing nets. In fact, the name "puya" comes from the Mapuche people of Southern Chile and Argentina and means "point," which is the characteristic shape of the inflorescence. It is the "flowering candle" varieties that will be the focus of this article.

The characteristic reverse barbed leaves.

The characteristic reverse barbed leaves.

Puya ramondii is known as the queen of the Andes.

Puya ramondii is known as the queen of the Andes.

Puya ramondii

The largest bromeliad in the world is native to the lower slopes of the Peruvian Andes and Bolivia. Puya ramondii is known as "the queen of the Andes," reaching 30 feet in height. This unique towering torch of white flowers, rarely seen outside its natural environment, is slow-growing and takes on average 100 years to produce a flower. This plant is also monocarpic, meaning the whole plant dies after the bloom is spent, leaving only its seeds for posterity.

Puya chilensis is often referred to as the sheep-eating plant.

Puya chilensis is often referred to as the sheep-eating plant.

Puya chilensis

Puya chilensis, a more practical horticulture specimen for display, grows to 10 feet and has a spectacular spike of yellow to lime green flowers. The huge rosettes of barbed, strappy leaves are dangerous to animals and humans alike. This species is often referred to as the "sheep-eating plant" because of its reputation for ensnaring wandering livestock and other unfortunate victims within its spiny clumps. The plant derives mineral-rich nutrients from the decomposing flesh and bones as a means of survival.

Puya berteroniana is commonly referred to as the turquoise tower.

Puya berteroniana is commonly referred to as the turquoise tower.

Puya berteroniana

Commonly referred to as "turquoise tower," the Puya berteroniana produces a six-foot flower spike from a 3' - 4' rosette of spiked strappy leaves. The inflorescence can take over several weeks to complete its spectacular bloom. The true turquoise flowers have bright orange anthers which stand out in striking contrast. The foliage appears gray-green due to its whitish coating, and the undersides look silver. As with all of the showy puya species, they are monocarpic and will not flower again. It can take a few years for its pups to produce their own spikes. The heart of the torch-like flower can purportedly be cut up and eaten with lemon and cilantro.



Best Puya for Home Cultivation

In suitable climates, the best candle-type puyas for backyard landscapes are:

  • Puya beteroniana: Grows to six feet and has turquoise flowers.
  • Puya alpestris: Grows to four feet. Known as the "sapphire tower," these have deeper teal blooms.

Bees and moths enjoy the pollen-rich anthers, and the hummingbirds rest on the natural perches while collecting nectar from the velvety flowers. Both are considered succulents and are well suited to xeriscape garden designs. Unlike succulents, which store water in their leaves, puya goes dormant during weather extremes. Each prefers well-drained soil and can tolerate hot, dry climates with winter dips to 18 degrees F.

Propagation and Care

These plants can either be grown from seeds or the off-shoots that form at the base. It will take six to eight years before flower formation. Although drought-tolerant, these plants can handle more water during the growing season if the soil drains well.

They can be propagated in containers or planted directly in the ground; however, I've found greater success in the garden bed. If using a pot, a cactus soil with a blend of sand or coir fiber is best.

Resistant to most pests and diseases, it is possible to see some scale or mealybug now and then. The best approach is to respond early by scraping off the scale from the undersides of leaves and treating the mealybug with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol or an application of neem oil.

An annual feeding of a slow-release organic fertilizer like calcium-rich bone meal or the pellet-form Osmocote is the most you'll need.

Moving this plant is serious business because of its razor-edged barbs. I'd suggest heavy cordura nylon gaiters and gauntlet gardening gloves. Snake Armour hunting overalls would be good too if working with a large specimen.

Stunning Additions to Landscape Designs

In landscape designs, these blend so well with agave, aloe, and kniphofia with their beautiful orange spiky blooms. The bluish-green fingers of Senecio mandraliscae and the bright red-orange pencil-like foliage of Euphorbia tirucalli are nice compliments too. The rosettes of Aeonium black rose and low spreading sedum or bulbine add textural interest and contrast. Even when not in bloom, its silvery-gray clusters are beautiful in the sun and by moonlight.

In my own garden, it co-exists with bearded irises, aloe, and other succulents. It sits in beautiful contrast to the green and burgundy of nearby companions. Remember to choose nearby plants with the same growing conditions and water needs. Also, the barbed leaves of the puya are not suitable for areas of traffic, pets, or children.

Wherever it grows to maturity and sets bloom is where one will hear the gasps of astonishment from those who see it for the first time. It is truly unique.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have dozens of healthy seedlings of P. alpestris, coerulea & berteroniana. All have several leaves but remain very small. Are puya seedlings always super slow growing or is there something I should be doing to speed them up? They have good light, moisture, compost etc but I have never given any fertilizer yet. As a puya beginner, I'd be grateful for your advice.

Answer: Puya is very slow to grow. Be patient. Once the second set of "true" leaves appear on a seedling, you can carefully apply fertilizer. Do so at half the recommended strength. You can feed up to 2 X week, but I am more conservative.

© 2014 Catherine Tally


JR Krishna from India on October 04, 2015:

Beautiful. Very unusual combination of colors.

You are really lucky to have it in your backyard

Thanks for sharing

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on June 25, 2015:

Thank you, Roberta! We really consider ourselves lucky to have this rare find in our backyard, although we never know when it will bloom. Sometimes it takes years! Although the seeds can be started in a cactus soil, the plants are extremely slow growing and require much patience. Since the leaves are so sharp and dangerous, we have let it sprawl with its many offshoots. Eventually, the mature ones will set a flower spike. Puyas are monocarpic, meaning the plant dies after blooming, so the flowering leaf cluster will never produce again, only the new off shoot.

Perhaps one day I will collect the seeds and plant them. It takes nearly a year before these sprouts are hearty enough for full sun! I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Take care! Cat:)

RTalloni on June 25, 2015:

What a find in your garden. It's stunning! Isn't it amazing what just shows up sometimes? Thanks for sharing your video on the blooming process. It looks like the plant would produce many new seeds before it died. Did they all come up?

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 09, 2015:

Hello poetryman and thanks for stopping by to read and comment! We're hoping for another bloom in a month or so and are glad it's not the variety that ensnares small animals!

poetryman6969 on March 09, 2015:

Beautiful, weird and dangerous!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 09, 2014:

Thank you, Jo :) It is always exciting to see it bloom. I appreciate the thoughtful comments and always enjoy seeing you here. Take care!


Jo Alexis-Hagues from Lincolnshire, U.K on October 09, 2014:

The blue teal plant is simply stunning. How lucky to have this exotic beauty bloom in your garden. Voted up and awesome, great hub.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on August 24, 2014:

Hello Fay. Welcome to Hub Pages! Once you see a puya in bloom, they make a lasting impression! I hope that you can grow one in your climate and that my hub helped you learn about its preferences. I appreciate your visit here. Take care!

Cat :)

Fay Favored from USA on August 24, 2014:

It was about a year ago that I was introduced to this type of plant. They are so beautiful; I hope that one day I'll be able to have them in my gardens.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 08, 2014:

Hi LongTimeMother. I'm willing to bet that the puya could grow well in parts of Australia. Thank you for the thoughtful comment- nice to see you!

My best to you-

Cat :)

LongTimeMother from Australia on April 08, 2014:

Hi cat. I'm not sure I'll ever see one for real, but the photos are very impressive. :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 21, 2014:

Hello, Eddy. I'm so glad you liked this and appreciate your kind comments. Spring has come early for us, and is such a glorious time in the garden. I send you best wishes for a lovely Spring also.

My best,

Cat :)

Eiddwen from Wales on March 20, 2014:

What an interesting and beautiful hub. Voted up and looking forward to so many more.


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 19, 2014:

Good morning, Audrey. Sounds like perfect timing! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it. Take care.


Audrey Howitt from California on March 18, 2014:

Interesting--I was just looking at this plant in someone else's garden the other day and wondering what it was--

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 12, 2014:

Good morning, Genna. I'll bet you are more than ready for Spring after all the harsh weather conditions you Easteners have had to endure! I'm glad that you enjoyed this. Teal and turquoise petals are extremely rare in nature. It's always good to see you here! Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

My best to you for a warm and cheerful Spring-

Cat :)

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 12, 2014:

What an amazing plant...the colors and shape of the blooms are breathtaking and stunning. Thank goodness spring is just around the corner.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2014:

Hi Phyllis. I'm so happy to hear that all of the components of this hub worked so well together! It was fun to compile it all, and I love to get positive feedback. Thank you for your kind comments and encouragement.

Wishing you a beautiful Spring,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2014:

FlourishAnyway, Yes, it is well worth the wait and as exciting as seeing it the first time! Until we actually started taking photos of it during the bloom process, we didn't realize it happened over a 5 week period! Thank you for stopping by to read and comment.

My best to you,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2014:

Thank you, Rebecca! I really appreciate your kind comments. Good to see you here.

All of the best,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2014:

Hi Jodah. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and am glad I introduced you to a new plant. The puya would thrive in Australia's semi-arid regions, not so sure about Queensland though. Thank you for stopping by!

Take care,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 10, 2014:

Hi Frank and thank you for the nice comments! Glad you found it both informative and entertaining.

My best,


Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on March 10, 2014:

Cat, you put this hub together in a very nice presentation. The puya blue and orange flower is so lovely and your "Dance of the Puya" video is so fun to watch, the music is perfect for this beautiful flower. Well done on the hub, the video, and all the images you chose.

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 10, 2014:

What an awesome plant. Very beautiful and worth the years wait for those pretty flowers.

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 10, 2014:

What an awesome looking plant! I can tell it was quite an inspiration for you in creating this great hub!

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on March 10, 2014:

Wow, what beautiful plants. Amazing blue flowers. I have never seen these before so this was very educational. Thanks for sharing.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on March 09, 2014:

Cat this was interesting, educational and honestly entertaining hub...thank you